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Old Posted Jun 1, 2007, 7:13 AM
elmariachi elmariachi is offline
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New museum in SA (hopefully)

Hispanic military museum is planned

Web Posted: 05/31/2007 11:16 PM CDT

Guillermo Contreras

They have been left out of documentaries, history books and movies, but if a grass-roots proposal gets off the ground, Latino veterans would be immortalized in San Antonio.

Today, a committee of Hispanic veterans and others is set to announce plans for a proposed 21,500-square-foot facility that would highlight the accomplishments and contributions of Hispanics in the military.

If it becomes reality, the National Hispanic Military Heroes Museum would honor 42 Hispanic Medal of Honor recipients, Latino admirals and generals, Hispanic astronauts, fighter pilots, Latino veterans who are female and the "Aztec Eagles," pilots and support personnel from Mexico who were in World War II, also known as El Escuadrón 201 (Mexican Expeditionary Force 201st Fighter Squadron), among other exhibits.

The museum also would recognize "everyday" Latino veterans, according to a preliminary proposal.

The projected cost for a new building is about $17 million, although the plans also call for finding an existing structure or land, said Virgil Fernandez, head of the committee. If all goes well, the museum could open in four to five years.

The group has no money in hand, although some committee members will be approaching local, regional and national corporations and foundations for donations for the museum project, said Fernandez, a San Antonio Navy veteran who wrote a book in 2006 called "Hispanic Military Heroes."

"Here we are in 2007, and if you look at different museums, we're mentioned as a footnote," said Fernandez, a disabled veterans outreach coordinator for the Texas Workforce Commission from 1987 to 1996, and a radio and television news reporter in San Antonio in the 1970s and early 1980s. "We're much more than footnotes."

The committee will kick off its campaign to raise funds during a news conference today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 76 at 10 10th St., near Broadway Boulevard — the oldest post in Texas.

The committee also includes Delia Guajardo, president of the San Antonio Veterans Parade; Tony Alvarado, director of the Fiesta Flambeau parade; Sylvia Sanchez, commander of VFW District 20; Tony Vasquez, commander of VFW Post 76; Robert Larios, U.S. postmaster in San Antonio; accountant Luis Hernandez; Walter Herbeck, a volunteer with the League of United Latin American Citizens and the VFW; and museum architect Alfonzo Fernandez, according to Virgil Fernandez. The group is finalizing nonprofit status.

Virgil Fernandez said he and retired Army Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela, who also is on the committee, tossed around the idea for a museum last November with others as an expansion of Fernandez's book and other efforts to recognize Latino veterans.

Valenzuela led the U.S. Army South, which moved from Puerto Rico to Fort Sam Houston, for three years.

Some of the other efforts, Valenzuela said, include the work of Professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, who runs the U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin, and the work of San Antonian Rudi Rodriguez, who runs TexasTejano.com a firm that focuses on historical research.

The controversy surrounding Ken Burns' forthcoming PBS documentary on veterans of World War II, which initially made no mention of Latino veterans, brought the museum proposal to the forefront.

"We've been instrumental in war and peace. We've had generals and admirals," Valenzuela said. "We've all contributed. The idea of a museum is very critical."

Antonio Gil Morales, national commander of the American GI Forum, the country's largest Hispanic veterans organization, said San Antonio is a good fit for the museum.

"We were discussing where was the best place to have this museum, and we agreed that San Antonio is Military Town USA, and we've had a lot of our Medal of Honor recipients from San Antonio," said Morales, of Fort Worth, who's on the museum's organizing committee. "San Antonio is a great place to have it."

Fernandez met last week with Edward Benavides, executive assistant to City Manager Sheryl Sculley, to see if the city might be able to donate, or sell at low cost, surplus land or a building for the museum.

"At this time, the city could not make any commitment towards the project, but asked him to keep us apprised as he moves forward with his capital campaign," Benavides said Thursday.

Fernandez said the group will reach out to other organizations and private corporations and foundations to see if they have surplus buildings or land.

The museum proposal is embraced by another prominent veteran, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who led the Iraq war for more than a year after Baghdad's fall.

"I think it would be an understatement that we need something like that to recognize the contributions of our Hispanic men and women who, over the course of American history, contributed to the security of this nation," said Sanchez, a three-star general who retired in San Antonio.
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